Mis-advice on Academic Journal Submissions

An essay provides outdated advice that could hurt scholars, especially younger ones.

February 12, 2023

To the Editor: 

I read with great consternation Wayne Journell’s out-of-date and unrealistically idealist “advice on academic journal submissions,” Feb. 3, 2023. I assume that he means “advice to authors.” His intended audience is not clear, whether authors or editors, or graduate students, recent Ph.D.s, or more experienced academics. That matters a great deal. 

In his promotion for his “how-to” book, entitled Becoming a Scholarly Journal Editor, confusingly if not contradictorily subtitled Practical Advice for Editors and Tips for Authors—advice and tips?—Journell shows a lack of familiarity with academic publishing in the 21st century. His “advice” might—or might not—have been suitable for the 1970s when I began to publish as a graduate student and assistant professor. It is dramatically out of touch today. 

I base my criticisms on my own, my teachers’, and colleagues’ experience over 50 years. And my experience and that of my colleagues (especially those 50 or younger) and students, during the last decade and especially the last 6 years. That is the declared period of Journell’s term as editor of Theory & Research in Social Education, which is not a “major journal.” 

Why does he not begin by advising intended authors to review the procedures and contents for journals before they make initial decisions? Or checking to see which journals insist on the outmoded (and probably illegal) mandate for exclusive submissions? Or checking on requirements for “anonymous [initial] submissions.” Or, further, the challenges of online submission sites that often do not function and how to work-around them? 

Is he not aware of the much discussed “crisis” of reviewing: the combined difficulty of editors to secure qualified reviewers and reviewers often combatting and competing with submissions with which they demonstrate little familiarity? Or the unprofessionally long duration that manuscript reviewing often takes? Or the rarity of scholarly and collegially constructive comments? They are rare. I have had none since 2015. 

And “editors” who no longer edit or even read manuscripts. Since 2015, I had only one “detailed editorial decision letter” of dozens of submissions of different articles. This parallels the experience of colleagues and former students across disciplines and continents. Never the norm, that was somewhat more common. Early in my career, rejections—without “revise and resubmit”—were sometimes accompanied by collegial, constructive suggestions including other possible sites for submission. 

Recently, I experienced the editor of a major journal (in his position for more than 35 years), never reading my article, sending it out for three rounds of reviews with revisions because of split recommendations (accept with no or minor changes versus irrelevant, unknowledgeable rantings). After the final review condemned the manuscript by focusing on a phrase that does not even appear in it, the editor refused to reply to my direct request for editorial intervention. I filed a formal complaint with the professional organization with which the journal is associated. But they do not “own” the journal. A commercial publisher does. They are “investigating.” 

Finally, one of the greatest threats to scholarly publishing now is the relatively recent rise of predatory “pay to publish” dishonest Open Access “journals” and publishing “corporations” mostly based in Bangladesh. They spam academics’ emails. They accept submissions in a few weeks with fake reviews, and “publish” online for $100 to $200 with payment by Western Union to people with the same last name in Bangladesh. Surprisingly, Journell does not mention them in his “advice.” 

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“Advisors” must know their subject and their audiences. 

—Harvey J. Graff 
Professor Emeritus of English and History, and Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies 
Ohio State University

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